The schools were originally founded by the Society of the Sacred Heart, a religious congregation of women instituted by St Madeleine Sophie Barat in France. Here is a summary of her background, taken from the prospectus of Sacred Heart High School, Newcastle, England.
On 21 November 1800 in post-revolutionary Paris, a small group of idealistic women gathered in a secret chapel in a friend’s attic. Here, during Mass, they made religious vows. Soon after they moved to Amiens where they opened a small school for girls. The youngest member of the group became their superior, her name was Madeleine Sophie Barat.
Born in 1779 in Joigny, France, into a humble artisan family she was from her earliest years a remarkable child. Like the other girls in the town she received no formal schooling. However Louis, her seminarian older brother, sent home when all religious institutions were disbanded by the Revolution, educated her in the strongly classical traditions of the boys he taught at the seminary. She loved her studies, but always yearned for the contemplative life of a Carmelite, however the Revolution had made this a near impossibility.
In 1796 Sophie went to Paris to live with Louis who had been secretly ordained a priest. Over the next four years there she and three other young women worked towards some form of dedication to God and as convents began to reopen Sophie once more dreamed of Carmel. But it was a priest, Father Joseph Varin, who helped her to see the educational needs of young girls of the new post-revolutionary generation. In their own schools girls could be guided in ways of principle and faith. So Madeleine Sophie’s life as an educator began. The schools were successful and the Society spread rapidly in Europe and then to the rest of the world.
Over the years the Sacred Heart Schools (many now under lay management) have built on the legacy left by Madeleine Sophie Barat. Today European students receive an excellent education based on the principles of the Society of the Sacred Heart. They share those principles with around 150 schools globally.